Murder in New York: Has the push for marriage equality sparked a backlash against gays?

Same-sex marriage advocates say a rash of hate crimes might be a response to their recent gains

A man lights a candle at the shrine for Mark Carson during the Rally Against Hate on May 20.
(Image credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Gay-rights activists protested in New York City this week after the murder of Mark Carson, a 32-year-old man who was gunned down last weekend after being taunted with anti-gay slurs. The killing took place in one of the nation's most gay-friendly neighborhoods, Greenwich Village, not far from the Stonewall Inn, the site of a 1969 police raid that sparked riots, invigorating the gay rights movement. Marching through the same streets, the protesters shouted, "Homophobia's got to go!"

Carson's murder wasn't an isolated incident. Three anti-gay hate crimes have been reported in the city this week, bringing the total to 24 this year — up from 14 at this point in 2012. Police and gay-rights advocates can't say for sure what's behind the rash of violence. Some note, however, that it's no coincidence these crimes have occurred as support for gay marriage is quickly rising. Of the 12 states that allow gay marriage, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Delaware all legalized it in the past month alone. Are these attacks part of a backlash over gay-marriage advocates' recent victories?

Absolutely, says Michelangelo Signorile, editor-at-large of The Huffington Post's Gay Voices. "[Mark Carson's] killing has kept me up the past two nights," he says. "It's sickening and enraging. And perhaps the shock I'm seeing expressed about it, particularly among younger LGBT people, underscores that many of us have been living with a false sense of security, intoxicated by the wins on marriage equality in the states and in the federal courts."

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It's way too easy to grow complacent, fed by the desire to have the fight done with as well as by the seductive message of some in the media who've simplistically declared victory for the LGBT rights movement.

Victory is very far off, however, if we can't walk the streets of even the most LGBT-friendly cities holding hands or expressing ourselves without fear of being taunted and violently assaulted. And for hundreds of thousands living in less tolerant places all across the country, openness has never been a reality. Until it is, we're nowhere near victory. [Huffington Post]

Opponents of gay marriage, however, say it's unfair to link anti-gay crime with their political efforts. Brian Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, says his group emphatically condemns Carson's murder — and all violence targeting gays.

Our heart goes out to the family of the victim, and we hold them in our prayers. While this killing appears to have no connection to the current debate about redefining marriage, there is no room for violence toward any American — whether they support traditional marriage or not. No person should be subjected to violence because they are gay or lesbian or because they believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. There is no place for violence, period. [National Organization for Marriage]

Regardless of what's behind the recent outburst of hate-fueled violence against gays, such attacks are nothing new, says Daniel D'Addario at Salon. The way these crimes are being treated, though, is different, and reflects a positive trend, he adds. "For all the brutality of the past month in New York," he says, "the mere fact that the crimes are being framed as hate crimes indicates just how far the movement has come."

Perhaps the hate crimes in New York, awful though they are, symbolize a lesson no one in the gay community wanted demonstrated about just how far they'd come. The new attention to anti-gay crimes, said [former Clinton administration adviser Richard] Socarides, who helped draft the anti-hate crime bill President Obama signed in his first term, means much had changed. "It has gotten better in a lot of ways. As a society we recognize these crimes as hate crimes as opposed to normal homophobic behavior, quote unquote. The police in most places, thankfully in New York, are willing to step up and call it like they see it. That reflects progress." [Salon]

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.